Tagged: Wade Miley

Eovaldi, Gardner Spur Yankees Past Reeling Bosox

GAME 24

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2

When the Yankees traded infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to the Miami Marlins for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and first baseman-outfielder Garrett Jones they were hoping that the 25-year-old Eovaldi would develop into a reliable starting pitcher.

It appears after his performance against the Red Sox on Saturday he may be well on his way to doing just that.

Eovaldi held the Red Sox to just two runs in 6 2/3 innings and Brett Gardner drove in three of the Yankees’ four runs as New York clinched a road series victory over Boston and now have won nine of their past 11 games.

Eovaldi (2-0) yielded seven hits and one walk while he struck out two in his first career start at Fenway Park.

The Yankees staked Eovaldi to a 1-0 lead in the third inning against left-hander Wade Miley (1-3) on a leadoff single by Didi Gregorious, a wild pitch that advanced Gregorius to second and a one-out RBI double by Gardner.

The Red Sox, however got that run back in the fourth inning as Dustin Pedroia led off the frame with his fifth home run of the season.

But the Yankees took the lead for good in the fifth beginning with a leadoff double by Chase Headley and a bloop single to center by Gregorio Petit. Gregorius advanced both on a sacrifice bunt and, one out later, Gardner delivered a two-run single that scored Headley and Petit.

The Red Sox chased Eovaldi in the seventh inning when catcher Blake Swihart, making his major-league debut, drew a two-out walk. Right-hander Chris Martin replaced Eovaldi and was immediately greeted by an RBI double by Mookie Betts.

However, that was close the Red Sox got because Martin then retired Pedroia on a groundout to strand Betts at second.

Chris Young provided the Yankees with an insurance run in the ninth inning with a one-out solo home run off right-hander Alexi Ogando.

Meanwhile, Dellin Betances entered the game with two out in the eighth and he retired all four batters he faced on strikeouts to earn his first save of the season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 15-9 and they now lead the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by two games in the American League East. The Red Sox dropped to 12-12 and they are in third place and trail by three games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Eovaldi threw a season-high 111 pitches and he only struck out two batters. But what made Eovaldi special on Saturday is the way he featured his fastball more and he worked both sides of the plate. After Pedroia’s homer in the fourth, David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval both reached on singles with two out. But Eovaldi managed to get Mike Napoli to rap into an inning-ending double play. “I thought he pitched in extremely well,” catcher Brian McCann told reporters. “I think he’s getting better and better, I really do.”
  • Betances came in and shut the door hard on the Red Sox. He ended the eighth by fanning Napoli and then struck out Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts and Swihart in succession for only his second career save and his first of this season. Betances has now struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in seven consecutive appearances. He also has struck out 25 batters in 14 1/3 innings on the season.
  • Gardner was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and three RBIs in clearly what was his best game of the season. He entered the contest with three RBIs on the season. But Gardner is quietly producing big numbers behind Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 2 spot in the order. Gardner has hits in his past five starts and is 8-for-20 (.400) in that stretch and that has raised his season average to .319.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the Yankees win and the Red Sox lose it is not a day to dwell on the negatives. I would be hard-pressed to find any anyway. This team is just clicking on all cylinders now.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the struggling Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (1-1, 4.35 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Warren held the Rays to a run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings but he did not get a decision.

The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Joe Kelly (1-0, 4.94 ERA). Kelly and Warren faced each other on April 11 at Yankee Stadium and Kelly won the game 8-4. But since then Kelly has been tagged for 12 runs on 17 hits and six walks in 16 2/3 innings for an ERA of 6.48 and a WHIP of 1.38 in his past three starts.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by ESPN.

 

Fenway Quiet As A-Rod’s 660th Homer Bites Bosox

GAME 23

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

If there is any place where Alex Rodriguez would hear the loudest boos it would hands down be at Fenway Park. That is exactly the way it played out on Friday when Rodriguez pinch-hit in the eighth inning. But he managed to silence the 35,444 in attendance with one historically significant swing.

Rodriguez laced a 3-0 fastball off right-hander Junichi Tazawa into the seats above the Green Monster in left to break a 2-2 tie and give New York a thrilling victory over rival Boston.

The home run also was the 660th of Rodriguez’s career, which ties him for fourth on the all-time home run list with the legendary Willie Mays.

The teams remained tied into the eighth as both Red Sox right-hander Justin Masterson and Yankee left-hander CC Sabathia ended up with similar pitching lines.

The Yankees jumped into an early 1-0 lead in the first inning on a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury, a one-out walk to Mark Teixeira and a two-out RBI double by struggling veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who entered the game batting .162.

The Red Sox tied it in the third inning when Xander Bogaerts opened the frame with a double and advanced to third on a deep fly to center by Ryan Hanigan. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Mookie Betts.

The Red Sox then took the lead in the fourth on a solo two-out golf shot home run to left off the bat of Allen Craig for his first home run of the season.

The Yankees knotted the score in the seventh when Didi Gregorius drew a walk off Masterson. Left-hander Tommy Layne replaced Masterson and, with two out, he struck Teixeira on the right arm with a pitch and Brian McCann followed with an opposite-field single to score Gregorius.

Masterson was charged with two runs on six hits and three walks while he fanned two in 6-plus innings. Sabathia gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks and he struck out three in six innings.

Sabathia entered the game with an 0-4 record and he has not won a regular-season game since April 14 of last season against the Red Sox.

Esmil Rogers (1-1) pitched a perfect seventh inning to get credit for the victory. Tazawa (0-1) took the loss.

As has been the case all season, the Yankees relied on the “Twin Towers” of 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances and 6-foot-7 left-hander Andrew Miller to close out the final two innings.

Betances pitched around a walk and a single to keep Boston scoreless in the eighth and Miller hurled a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his ninth save in nine chances.

The Yankees improved their season record to 14-9 and they remain in first place in the American League East one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox fell to 12-11 and they are two games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod has always has had a flair for the dramatic at Fenway Park. His last homer there came off right-hander Ryan Dempster in 2013 after Dempster had deliberately hit him with a pitch in his previous at-bat. This home run came on a  3-0 pitch and strangely enough it is only the second homer of Rodriguez’s career on a 3-0 count. For the season, Rodriguez has six home runs. Rodriguez did not start the game for two reasons. The first was that manager Joe Girardi was employing an all-lefty hitting lineup against Masterson. The second is that Rodriguez entered the game 2 for his past 17 at-bats, which is a sickly .118.
  • Betances and Miller have now combined to pitch 25 2/3 scoreless innings between them. They have given up nine hits and 12 walks while they have struck out 42 batters. This is shaping up to be the strongest 1-2 combination the Yankees have had since the days of Mariano Rivera setting up for John Wetteland in 1996.
  • Beltran has been scuffling all season and he recorded no home runs and seven RBIs in the first month of the season. But on the first day of May he was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and an big two-out RBI in the first inning. The Yankees badly need to get the 38-year-old veteran untracked.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees allowed Masterson and relievers Layne, Tazawa and Robbie Ross Jr. off the hook so many times that they stranded 12 base-runners. They loaded the bases with two out in the fifth inning when Masterson hit McCann with a pitch. However, Beltran hit a weak roller to second to leave the bases loaded. Fortunately for the Yankees, the Red Sox were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
  • Garrett Jones started as the team’s designated hitter in place of Rodriguez and he was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Jones, 33, is 5-for-30 (.167) on the season with no homers and no RBIs in 12 games. After a poor spring Jones may be playing his way out of favor. He once was considered as a potential platoon DH with Rodriguez. But that ship has sailed and Jones is getting less and less playing time.

BOMBER BANTER

All the injured players the Yankees left in spring training are progressing nicely. Left-hander Chris Capuano, who is on the disabled list with a right quadriceps strain, is scheduled to throw four innings or 60 pitches at Class-A Tampa on Saturday. Right-hander Ivan Nova, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to throw one inning in an intrasquad game. Right-hander Jared Burton (oblique) is also scheduled to throw an intrasquad inning. Meanwhile, backup infielder Brendan Ryan (right calf strain) took an at-bat in extended spring training game on Friday. Infielder Jose Pirela (concussion) received a rehab assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre and he went 1-for-4 with a walk against Charlotte on Thursday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series against the wicked evil Red Sox on Saturday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 4.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, surrendered four runs on seven hits while he struck out six in 4 1/3 innings in a no decision against the New York Mets on Sunday.

The Red Sox will counter with struggling left-hander Wade Miley (1-2, 8.62 ERA). Miley was torched for eight runs on five hits and two walks in just 2 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

Game-time will be 1:35 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

One Bad Inning Dooms CC As Jays Top Yankees

GAME 3

BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 3

The Blue Jays strung together four consecutive hits to open the second inning against CC Sabathia and all four runners later scored as Toronto went on to defeat New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 32,152 at Yankee Stadium.

Sabathia (0-1), who making his first start since May 10 of last season, was touched for an opposite-field single by Edwin Encarnacion, a lined single to center by Josh Donaldson, a ground single by Danny Valencia that ticked off the glove of Sabathia and a lined single to left by Kevin Pillar that scored Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays added runs on consecutive RBI groundouts by Steve Tolleson and Devon Travis and completed the scoring with an RBI single by Jose Reyes.

Meanwhile, rookie left-hander Daniel Norris (1-0) yielded three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings for his first major-league victory in only his second career start.

The Blue Jays added an unearned run off Sabathia in the fifth inning when Donaldson reached on a two-out infield single and then Valencia followed with a seeing-eye single that rolled past second baseman Gregorio Petit into right-field. Right-fielder Carlos Beltran’s throw to third base caromed off Donaldson and allowed him to score on the throwing error.

Sabathia was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits and no walks while he struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees scored a run in the fifth on a leadoff double by John Ryan Murphy and a one-out RBI single by Didi Gregorius, however, Gregorius was picked off straying too far off first by Valencia.

Alex Rodriguez blasted his first home run since Sept. 20, 2013 and his first of the season off Norris to lead off the sixth inning and one batter later Mark Teixeira added his first of the season to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 5-3.

But Encarnacion connected for his second home run of the series with two out in the eighth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.

Twenty-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro, who was named the closer earlier in the day, pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I am not crazy for saying this but Sabathia actually pitched a lot better than the results showed. If you take away the O.B.I. (One Bad Inning), Sabathia yielded just one unearned run on three hits and no walks. One big surprise was the eight strikeouts. Two of those strikeouts were against Jose Bautista, who ended up 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts in the series. There is something for Sabathia to build upon in this game despite the defeat.
  • The Yankees managed only seven hits, which is nothing new when it comes to their weak offense. However, the backup catcher, Murphy, ended up with two of them and both were lined doubles. Much was made of the spring training battle between Murphy and Austin Romine for the backup job, but manager Joe Girardi obviously made the right choice in the 23-year-old Murphy.
  • It was nice to see A-Rod and Teixeira connect for their first home runs of the season. The Yankees will require both of them to put up a lot of them and drive in a lot of runs if they are to contend at all in the American League East. It would just be nice if the homers weren’t solo shots.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Fielding has been a bit of an issue and it hurt the Yankees badly in the four-run second inning. With Encarnacion on second and Donaldson at first, Valencia hit a ground ball that ticked off Sabathia’s glove for an infield single. If Sabathia had either fielded it cleanly or had let it get by to Gregorius at shortstop it would have been an easy double play and it would have changed the complexion of the game. Sabathia also failed to back up third on Beltran’s throw to nail Donaldson in the sixth and it cost the Yankees a run. When it comes to fielding, Sabathia is just plain lazy and Girardi needs to lay down the law by fining players for mental errors like this.
  • After Rodriguez and Teixeira homered and there were two out in the sixth, Chris Young drew a walk from Norris, which ended Norris’ outing. Murphy then doubled off right-hander Roberto Osuna to put the tying run in scoring position. Girardi sent Stephen Drew up to pinch-hit for Petit. On a 1-2 count, Drew got a good pitch to hit but he fouled it off. On the next pitch he struck out swinging. That at-bat really cost the Yankees dearly.
  • Gregorius drove in his first run of the season with his first hit of the season in the fifth. That is a good thing. However, Gregorius also killed the inning by roaming too far off first on Pillar’s throw home as Murphy scored. Valencia cut off the throw and Travis snuck in behind Gregorius at first to tag him out. In two instances in this series, Gregorius has been thrown out on base-running gaffes. Derek Jeter might have done that twice in his entire career. The young shortstop has a lot to learn.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the evil scourge of the East in the Boston Red Sox on Friday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, 25, will make his debut as a starter with the Yankees. Eovaldi was obtained in the offseason from the Miami Marlins and he had an excellent spring with a 1-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in four starts.

The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Wade Miley, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Miley had no record with a 3.71 ERA in four spring appearances (three starts).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by WPIX.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Yankees Sting D-Backs On Hafner’s Pinch-Hit Blast

GAME 13

YANKEES 4, INDIANS 3

Raul who?

In a very short time Travis Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk” for “Project Donkey,” is making fans in The Bronx forget all about Raul Ibanez and his trademark clutch home runs in 2012.

Hafner carved out his own niche on Wednesday with two out in the eighth inning when the pinch-hitter grabbed a piece of lumber that looked like a maestro’s baton in his beefy hands and swatted the first pitch he saw from David Hernandez (0-1) and sent the ball into a high-arcing orbit into the right-centerfield bleachers to give New York a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Arizona at Yankee Stadium.

Hafner’s fourth home run of the season followed a dramatic three-run rally in the seventh inning against Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley and reliever Tony Sipp.

CC Sabathia (3-1) was looking like a sure loser trailing 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Diamondbacks jumped on him in the first inning for two runs on a leadoff single by A.J. Pollock and a two-run opposite-field home run by Paul Goldschmidt.

The D-backs added another run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Josh Wilson and a sacrifice fly by Pollock.

Miley, meanwhile, kept the Yankees off-balance all evening with his assortment of tailing fastballs, sliders and change-ups. Through the first six innings, the Yankees had just two hits, a walk and a hit batter to show for an offense. Miley retired 17 of the 20 hitters he faced after Brett Gardner led off the game with a single.

But Miley appeared to run out of gas and lose his control in the seventh.

With one out, Ben Francisco singled down the left-field line and one out later Brennan Boesch hit an opposite-field, excuse-me-swing double into left to advance Francisco to third.

Miley then walked Eduardo Nunez on a 3-2 pitch and he followed that by issuing a bses-loaded walk to Jayson Nix that scored Francisco and put the Yankees on the scoreboard.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson removed a spent Miley in favor of the left-hander Sipp and Gardner greeted him with a two-run single to left to score Boesch and Nunez and tie the game.

Sabathia pitched a scoreless eighth and he left the game having given up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out four.

Miley also yielded three runs on four hits and three walks and struck out three in 6 2/3 innings.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning and earned his fourth save of the season and his second in two nights against Arizona.

The Yankees have now won eight of their past nine games and they are 8-5 on the season. The D-backs fell to 8-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was Hafner’s fourth career pinch-hit home run and he became a big hero to the most of the paid crowd of 34,369 at Yankee Stadium. Hafner, who is hitting .342 with four home runs and eight RBIs, was held out of the lineup with the left-handed Miley on the mound. But when the Yankees tied the score on Gardner’s two-run single, the D-backs elected to use the righty Hernandez in the eighth. That gave manager Joe Girardi the perfect opportunity to use Hafner to pinch-hit for Francisco with two out and Hafner delivered a huge hit.
  • “The Replacements” did it again. Francisco and Boesch singled in the seventh. Then Nunez, who is subbing for Derek Jeter, and Nix drew walks to score the team’s first run. Gardner drove in Boeasch and Nunez and Hafner won the game with his big home run.
  • Sabathia did not look good at all in the first inning. He gave up the single and the two-run home run to Goldschmidt and then gave up a walk and single before retiring the last two hitters. He threw 31 pitches that inning. Yet he settled in and retired 23 of the last 26 batters he faced to earn his third victory. So many times Sabathia has rescued the Yankees but this time the Yankees’ late offense rescued him.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is very odd but Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis were a combined 0-for-7 with two strikeouts between them on Wednesday. They managed to get only one ball out the infield. Cano and Youkilis have been the heart and soul of the team’s recent run of success and they are human after all. 
  • Francisco Cervelli also struggled in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also committed a throwing error in the sixth inning but it did not cost Sabathia and the Yankees a run. It appears that Cervelli has taken the reins of the catching duties away from Chris Stewart because he is hitting .310.

BOMBER BANTER

Injured first baseman Mark Teixeira received clearance on Wednesday to start swinging a bat and he is cautiously optimistic that he will be able to rejoin the team in May. Teixeira is on the 15-day disabled list with a torn sheath in his right wrist, an injury he suffered working out with Team USA before a an exhibition game in March.  . . .  Cano and Teixeira were presented with trophies before the game for winning Gold Gloves from Rawlings at their respective positions in 2012. Cano won his second award within the past three seasons for his fielding at second while Teixeira collected his fifth award as a first baseman.

ON DECK

The Yankees can earn a sweep of their three-game inter-league series with Arizona on Thursday.

The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 10.29). Hughes has shown signs of obvious rust in his first two starts of the season after missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. In his last start the Baltimore Orioles clubbed three home runs off him and he left the game in the fourth inning. Hughes has never faced the D-backs.

The Diamondbacks will start left-hander Steve Corbin (2-0, 1.50 ERA). Corbin outdueled fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start, pitching six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. Corbin has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Cano’s Blast Honors Namesake, Boosts Yankees

GAME 12

YANKEES 4, DIAMONDBACKS 2

On a night that the New York Yankees paid tribute to the man who broke the color line in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1952, Jackie Robinson, a player named in his honor won the game on Tuesday with a mammoth three-run home run.

Robinson Cano launched a 3-2 change-up off right-hander Brandon McCarthy in the fourth inning to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead as New York went on defeat Arizona in front of paid crowd of 34,107 at Yankee Stadium.

Lyle Overbay and Chris Stewart opened the fourth with back-to-back singles and, after Brett Gardner struck out swinging, Cano blasted his fourth home run of the season into the second deck of the bleachers in right-center. It took Cano until May 18 to hit his fourth home run last season.

Ivan Nova (1-1) pitched a shaky five innings but got credit for the victory by limiting the Diamondbacks to two runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck six batters.

Arizona scored their runs in the third inning when they loaded the bases with nobody out and Miguel Montero lofted a sacrifice fly to score the first run and Cody Ross followed with an RBI single.

However, McCarthy (0-2) could not keep his pitch count in check enough to hold the lead. He left after four innings having given up three runs on nine hits and two walks while he fanned four. He threw 102 pitches.

The Yankees plated a huge insurance run in the seventh inning off reliever Brad Ziegler when Eduardo Nunez launched a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and one out to score Kevin Youkilis, who opened the inning with his second single of the game.

The Yankees bullpen of Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Diamondbacks over the final four innings on just one hit to preserve the victory.

Rivera, the only major-league player currently wearing Robinson’s No. 42, fittingly ended the tribute to the former Los Angeles Dodgers star by pitching a perfect ninth inning to register his third save in as many tries of the season.

The Yankees have now won six of their past seven games and they improved their season mark to 7-5. The Diamondback fell to 8-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano was 2-for-4 with a walk in the game and is hitting .327 on the season with a team-leading 11 RBIs. In his past six games, Cano is 13-for-26 (.500) with four home runs and 11 RBIs. Manager Joe Girardi actually set the stage for the at-bat in the fourth by not having Gardner bunt to advance Overbay and Stewart, which forced McCarthy to pitch to Cano without a base open.
  • The so-called “Replacements” continue their fine hitting. Youkilis, Overbay and Travis Hafner were a combined 5-for-12 (.417) with two doubles and two runs scored. Youkilis is hitting a team-best .348 while Hafner is defying skeptics who thought he was through after five seasons in which he was only healthy enough to play in 86 games. Hafner is hitting .324 in the cleanup spot.
  • The bullpen looked really awful in the team’s first five games but it is looking much sharper now. They have not given up a run in the last four games in which they have pitched. Logan and Chamberlain looked particularly sharp after they both started off slow in the early going.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova is on a really short leash as a starter because of the way David Phelps has pitched in long relief of late. His command is still a big issue and he seems to have lost that swagger he had to challenge hitters. Give him credit for limiting the Diamondbacks to two runs but it was by no means a quality outing.
  • One of the “Replacements,” Vernon Wells, did not exactly have an evening worth remembering. He was 0-for-3 with a walk and left three men on base, two in scoring position. He was the only Yankee starter to not get a hit. But even with the off night, Wells is hitting .300 with three homers and five RBIs.

BOMBER BANTER

In addition to the celebration for Robinson, the Yankees also paid tribute to the victims of the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday. The team conducted a moment of silence before the game and they honored the city by playing “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, which the Red Sox play in the eighth inning of every home game.  . . .  Left-hander Andy Pettitte threw about 40 pitches in a bullpen session on Tuesday and pronounced himself ready to pitch on Friday in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Pettitte, who is 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA, had his last start skipped because of back spasms he reported last Thursday.  . . .  Though shortstop Derek Jeter has not suffered any further setbacks in rehabbing his fractured left ankle, Girardi told reporters he will not be back in the lineup by May 1. Jeter is working out at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, but he has not received clearance to play in any games yet.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game inter-league series with the Diamondbacks on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (2-1, 2.25 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off two strong outings against the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles in which he gave up just one earned run in his last 15 innings with 13 strikeouts. He is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA lifetime against the Diamondbacks.

He will be opposed by left-hander Wade Miley (2-0, 2.13 ERA). Miley defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last start, giving up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and it will be telecast by MY9.